0322 GMT March 25, 2019
Walking slower than normal could indicate dementia, express.co.uk wrote.
The study by the University of Pittsburgh discovered that even a tiny reduction in speed may be an accurate signal of the condition.
Dementia is a term which describes a set of symptoms — such as difficulties with language and problem solving — that occur when the brain is damaged by diseases or injury.
It currently affects 850,000 in the UK, but the Alzheimer's Society estimates this figure will rise to one million by 2025 — making more effective and earlier diagnosis of great importance.
In the study, the scientists discovered a connection between slowed walking speed and declining mental ability.
This link appears in the right hippocampus — a region deep in the brain that is crucial for memory and spatial orientation.
The researchers believe that by regularly measuring the walking speed of older people, doctors could identify the beginnings of cognitive decline.
Andrea Rosso, lead study author and assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, said, "Prevention and early treatment may hold the key to reducing the global burden of dementia, but the current screening approaches are too invasive and costly to be widely used.
"Our study required only a stopwatch, tape and an 18-foot-long hallway, along with about five minutes of time once every year or so.”
The researchers looked at 175 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 over a 14-year period.
While all the participants experienced reduced walking speed over time, those who slowed by 0.1 seconds more per year than their peers were 47 percent more likely to develop cognitive impairment.
Previous research has shown slowing in the participants’ gait or walking speed, was associated with cognitive impairment.
However, the new findings reveal that slowing gait and cognitive decline are linked to a shrinkage of the right hippocampus — also the only area of the brain where they found this association.
The results were even true when muscle weakness, knee pain and diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension were taken into account.
Rosso said, "A fraction of a second is subtle, but over 14 years, or even less, you would notice.
“People should not just write off these changes in walking speed. It may not just be that grandma’s getting slow — it could be an early indicator of something more serious.”